Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Don't Run From Who You Are"

Last night, my family and I trodded off to see the Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader and can I just say -- it’s a 4 Dufflepuds up for me. I loved it.

From behind the 1950’s styled black, thick rimmed glasses (now facilitating the ability to see 3D) I watched the screen intently. From the beginning, I was captivated with the artistry and the beauty. Through to the end, I was mesmerized by the truths, God’s truths universally and even for me, personally.

I strongly recommend the movie. Even if you have not read the book, you won’t miss the themes of the importance of resisting temptation, the beauty of God’s plan for our lives despite dangers along the way, of hope and of change, and the continual theme of God’s grace to all of His loved ones as they meet inner personal struggles.
In particular, I was moved to tears when Lucy struggled with the temptation of wanting to be as beautiful as her sister, Susan. In a cinematic portrayal that I cannot adequately explain here, Lucy looks in the mirror and then walks through the mirror, imagining herself as if she was Susan.  In the scene, a dialogue ensues between her and her two brothers, arm in arm with her at a party. Quickly, though, she realizes that if she was Susan, then there would not have been Lucy and Narnia would not have been discovered and much more.
At the moment of her confusion, the door of the mirror of her experience closes and Aslan appears, gazing in to her face and kindly speaking to her these rich words of truth, “You doubt your value.  Don’t run from who you are.”
I didn’t have paper, so I quickly penned the words on the palm of my hand and then reached up and wiped the tears that ran down my check, with the back of my hand.
These words pierced my heart and I knew that they were from the Lord to me, too.
 Lucy came face to face with Aslan and with the truth that he used Lucy AS Lucy. He created her for a purpose, just the way she was, to be part of his plan. The Lord creates each one of us with a purpose and a plan, just the way He wants us to be.
Do you struggle with sometimes wishing that you were like someone else? More beautiful or smart or witty or put together?  Are you tempted to compare and desire to be someone that you were not created to be?
I think that as women we are prone to struggling with this very temptation – a temptation to be discontent with who we are, wondering if we were someone else, how God may better use us. But the truth is that God made me and you just the way He wanted to, for His purposes – His perfect purposes, wrapped in His love for the display of His glory. He uses me AS me and you AS you.
I desire to believe His truth for my life, and I was reminded of it last night through a box office hit, of all places. God really can work in mysterious ways, when He chooses, and how He chooses.
You are valued, dear reader, don’t run from who you are.  Trust Him for whom He made you to be. He loves you very much, and has good plans for your life -- AS you.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Blessed Christmas!

“Don’t rip the paper, Mommy, it is special.” my youngest daughter warned me gently, as I unwrapped the Christmas present she made for my husband and me.
I carefully pulled the tape off and spread out her handmade wrapping paper on the table.
Scrawled in her second grade writing across the top of the paper, it read, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.  Luke 2:11”
Below the verse, drawn by her own hand, was a scene from the very first Christmas --Mary, the baby Jesus and a rather joyful looking Joseph exclaiming, “This is amazing.”
How simply and beautifully and truthfully expressed.
Yes, my dear, it was amazing.  And as I sit her tonite in a (finally) quiet home realities of great joy and deep sorrows are rolling around in my head, both in my own life and in the lives of those I love,  and I must remember this Christmas truth. It was amazing.
The Prince of the Peace, the Savior of the world, entered in to the darkness of the night, silently. It was a Holy night. It was just as God planned from the very beginning and it has been ever since.  Hope Himself came to reside with and rescue the ones He loved.  And Mary and Joseph named Him Emmanuel, Jesus, which means "God with us" and they named Him that because -- He is.  It is amazing.
Dear reader, whether you are celebrating joys or struggling through sorrows of loss, loneliness or despair  this Christmas time, my prayer for you is for peace and love.  A peace that surpasses all understanding – a real peace, a tangible peace, a perfect peace,  a peace that only Jesus can bring and an assurance of His love, for it is unfailing for you.
Blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thank You Lord, for Unexpected Opportunities to Love

I saw disappointment flow from her heart in the form of tears as she entered our bedroom in her jammies.
“Mom? I don’t feel very well and today is our Christmas party at school and I don’t want to miss it!” my middle daughter sobbed, as I wrapped my hands around her red little cheeks, and drew her close for a hug.
“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry. It is so miserable to be sick. I feel so sad for you,” I said trying to comfort her, as I tucked her under the covers of our bed.
I checked her temperature –  101.2 degrees.  That, in combination with a sore throat, a stomach ache, a headache and that I was diagnosed with strep throat on Monday – confirmed her diagnosis, in my mind.
Sure enough – we went to the doctor and the rapid strep test was, well, rapidly positive.
Ugh. Our home is being attacked by the streptococcus bacteria. 2 down, I hope not 5 to go.
I’ve been lamenting to the Lord over the past few days, when I was flat on my back on the couch, lacking Christmas joy and fretting over things to be done … “I don’t get it, Lord, five (then 4) days before Christmas. So much to do, surely you know, Lord!”
No  immediate answers.  I felt too sick to argue with the Creator of the Universe, so I relinquished control and tried to trust that He would show me why or give me the strength to do what I would NEED to do.
Then, my dear daughter got sick.  As I prayed with the children on the way to school (and to the doctor) this morning, I found myself unexpectedly saying – “ I don’t know Lord why we are getting sick, but thank you for giving us opportunities to love each other.”
There was my answer, and that’s the truth that I am snuggling in to this morning as I snuggle in next to my daughter. Despite the fact that it is hard to understand completely why difficult times come in to our lives, at inopportune times (like Christmas) – or any time – they ARE opportunities for us to love each other.
So, we are just hanging out, watching home renovation shows (she is the artistic one who loves these type of shows) and getting reading to play our favorite Webkinz game Eager Beaver’s Adventure Park.
“Well, Mom, at least we get to spend time together,” she said to me.
“Yes, we do dear, and I’m so thankful for that.”
It may not be the Christmas plans she and I wanted but we are taking advantage of an opportunity to love each other. Isn’t that what we should be doing at Christmas, anyway?

Monday, December 20, 2010

What May I Be Missing?

I made a spread sheet.  I didn’t want to miss a thing.
I thought it was a good idea. I thought it would help me to be efficient in accomplishing my goal to complete our Christmas shopping list.
I’m not terribly computer literate, but I figured out how to make a column for each kid, and under their names I mapped out what we already bought them in black and what I still needed to pick up for them in red.
I thought it was pretty snazzy, however ...
Although it looked good, it didn’t really help all that much.  I still find myself blanketed in busyness, of one sort or another.
So much to do, so little time.  Does anyone else feel the same?
Perhaps  on the night that Jesus was born, the people of that day were much the same as we are – some of us are. Busy. Distracted.  Fragmented. Oh, sure, they didn’t have the technology to make a spread sheet of all the things they had to get done, but I bet they were in a flurry of activity.  Many people were gathering in Bethlehem that night to register for the census. The mothers were likely busy with activity --  mouths to feed, people to make room for, dynamics to prepare for.
It was hectic – kind of like right now.
They missed out on the baby Jesus coming in to the world, and I am asking myself, "What may I be missing, too?"
As I've been asking I can sense the Lord leading me back to remembering -- remembering what Christmas was all about then and what it is still is all about now. Taking time to look for ways that the light of Jesus is shining in to the darkness and being open to being a part of His plan – a plan not held and organized on a spread sheet, but held in the palm of His hand. 
This plan that is part of His love for His people – then and now –  I desire to  witness it and I desire to be a part of it. I don't want to miss a thing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why did God use the Shepherds in the Christmas Story?

The Shepherds were going about their business. They were just living their lives out in the field, watching over their flocks at night. Things were pretty “normal” for them that night when the page to the next chapter in the greatest story of all time was turned and their names were written on it. We know that now; I suspect they had no clue.
Who would have thought a band of lowly shepherds would be the first ones to meet and greet the Savior of the World and be the first to tell of this baby?  Not me. If I was writing the story, I may have inserted a much more impressive crowd – fans at a sporting event, people at a party, onlookers at a concert in an auditorium.  But not God.  He chose the unlikely.
But why? I don’t know. I don’t get it, and I find myself pondering, “Why did God use the Shepherds in the Christmas story?”
I guess the word had to get out there somehow, that the Savior of the world had come in to the darkness of the night to be The Great Light.  Perhaps God prefers to use the simple and the humble.
Hmmm.  Shepherds --  just normal, every day shepherds. Isn’t it funny how God uses those whom we would never guess? 
And I’m so glad for that, for today (and yesterday) I find myself wondering, “Is God even using me? Is there a purpose to where I am, doing what I am? Or is it random and without value?”
Of course, my head knows better, but sometimes, it is hard for my heart to believe.
The truth is, most of the time, the answers to exactly what God is doing are not very evident or clear.   I suspect the Shepherds had no idea as to what was going to happen that night, nor how their lives were part of the greatest story of all time.
I believe the same goes for us. We just never know what God is doing or how He is using us, but we can be confident that He is involved in everything, orchestrating all for our good and for His glory.
This is what the Lord is impressing on my heart today – a normal day, filled with normal events --
 “Go about your work, dear child, the work that I have given to you.  Tend to your flock.  Care for those around you, those I have placed near to your heart.  I am using you, for my promise is that I have plans for you. You may not see them, but that does not mean that it is not happening.  Go about your day, and believe Me, I am working in You and through you, because I love you.”
I hope this encourages you, too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Numbers Dancing Around in My Head

Time for true confessions --  
I am rather competitive. 
You see,  I can be a bit competitive (okay, more than a bit) at the starting line of a race.  My blood begins to race, I get these tingling twitches in my legs, and I start seeing through the lens of the eye of the tiger. I just can’t help it.
However, this competitive spirit can rear its ugly head in some not so favorable ways.  Somewhere along the way, it morphs in to something totally different. Rather than competing in a healthy way, I start to compete against myself which gradually turns in to me defining myself by my successes and degrading myself for what I view to be failure.
Specifically, it’s been about my blog lately.  Two years ago, this month, I started it for three reasons (not necessarily in this order):
#1:  I love to write.
#2:  I felt the Lord impress on my heart to write for Him the things about Himself, life and myself that He shows me.
#3:  I love to encourage women.  It is my desire and joy to bring truth and hope to them, through the silliness, the seriousness and the sorrows of life.
But here’s the problem -- although I still feel strongly about these three things,  I also began to get caught up in the world of “The Numbers” and lately, they've been dancing around in my head. Yuck.
I started to realize that if I had a lot of “hits” in a day, I felt pretty good about myself. BUT (and it was getting to be a pretty big BUT) if I did not have as many as I hoped for, I would get discouraged and feel like maybe I should hang up the pen.
I went to the Lord (finally) and shared with Him my disappointment in myself. Why was I so easily influenced by numbers?  I knew better, but I couldn’t seem to loosen my grip on determining part of my value by whether lots or little people read my blog.
I knew what I had to do – stop checking the numbers.  I needed to go back to the reasons that I started in the first place. I needed to separate myself from the statistic counter and go with what God called me to do in the first place – write for Him, enjoy the process and trust that He would use it as He deemed fit. 
So, I’m four days in to “fasting from checking the numbers” and I feel better already. I made a commitment to the Lord that I wasn’t going to check until Christmas and I don’t like to break my promises to Him.  After Christmas, I’ll chat with the Lord on how I will handle the next phase.
Hebrews 12 says, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus … consider Him so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 
I’m taking my eyes off the numbers and off of allowing my successes or failures to determine my value. It’s a challenge, but it’s coming, and in the process I am finding that as I keep my eyes on Jesus, I truly am less prone to growing weary and losing heart and more able to have a healthy perspective on me and the world around me.
Life is full of lessons, isn’t it?   

Friday, December 10, 2010

Giving a Present of Presence

Would you agree?  There are just some people that their presence in a room can make a difference?  There is something about them -- their integrity, the way that they engage with others, the way they make others feel special.
They are open to relationship.
They are willing to be real.
They are safe.
They draw you out of yourself and help you to see your value.
They are honest.
They love you for who you are.  
They are like Jesus.
They are “present people,” and they are a gift.
In a season where lists of “things to do and presents to buy” for others roll through my head like semi-trucks rolling down a highway, I’ve been thinking about “presents” vs “presence.”
God works through our having a very present presence in people’s lives.  We can comfort others, encourage others, bring joy to others, and help others to see their value. Sometimes it’s just being in the room that can make all the difference, other times, it’s taking intentional time. It can happen when we are physically present and it can happen when we are emotionally present through a hand written note, a sympathetic ear at the other end of a telephone, through an e-mail or through a smile. 
I love people but I can get distracted with the demands of the season (or of life) and I forget that the most important thing I can do is not give a present (although I do enjoy that) but give more of myself.  I’m trying not to get too caught up in the details of the day, and make sure that I am following God’s lead on whom He wants me to check in with, spend time with and love on, or maybe even give a gift to.
Giving a present of our presence -- a very present presence. Blessing one person at a time, as the Lord leads.  Blessing the person He places in front of us, not just by being there, but being emotionally engaged -- having our hearts open to the heart of another. Loving one another as the Lord loves us. I’m working on it and enjoying it.  How about you?
What do you think? Can we tend to substitute presents for presence?  Why?  Is the risk greater in being present?  Are we fearful of rejection in the process?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Did I Just Say That?

I’m still laughing to myself this morning after having ingested a small piece of humble pie, last night.
Two hundred and thirty women gathered for the event, “The Heart of Christmas,” at our Women's Christmas Tea. The mood was set for a night of remembering the true meaning of Christmas through special music, lovely decorations, the men from our church serving, glowing candlelight , a lovely speaker sharing a powerful message and more.
It was my responsibility to welcome the women on behalf of the women of our church and help with the transitions between fellowship, music and the speaker.  It wasn’t a huge deal; it's not like I had to present the main message. I just had to help the women  feel welcome and special .
I began to welcome the women and attempt to quiet the room so that we could get started , and out of my mouth came … “Ladies, we need to quiet down so that we can get on with the show …” I don’t even remember what I said after that.
What I can remember is sitting back down in my chair, having an OBE (out of body experience) – well, not really – but standing back and looking at myself and saying, “Did you really just say that, at this lovely evening filled with spiritual richness?  Let’s get on with the show? Honestly, Andrea.  What is this a circus?”
I tried not to be too hard on myself, but rather laughed and tried to chalk it up to experience and another lesson in humility.  The rest of the night went beautifully and I don’t recall any other verbal snafus, but I will say, it did remind me of the fact that we just don’t know what may come out of our mouths.  I mean it could have been a lot worse than that, but none-the-less, I am still digesting that piece of pie.
Perhaps it was one of those “you had to be there moments for it to be funny,”but the point is we can really say some goofy things at times and unfortunately, at other times we can say some pretty hurtful things. We don’t mean to, but they slip out.   And as I’ve chuckled and pondered this little episode, I am reminded of the value of being humble,  not only about ourselves but extending humility by being gracious to others when they say silly things – or harder yet, hurtful things.
All I can think is “Good thing I have God.” Some of my friends said that they didn’t even notice and when I shared the story (trust me, it’s funnier when I tell the story than write it …) they laughed and said, “Well, It’s just the thing that makes you, you -- real.” 
Perhaps it is that, too, willing to be real and realizing that we are not going to perfectly perform.  Life isn’t a circus and our words are not always scripted to perfection. We all slip up, in alittle and not-so-little ways, but God's grace is bigger in our lives. and in the lives of others.  Let us give each other that grace. Let us receive it, as well.
I need to go, now … and well, “Get on with the show …” of my day. Hope yours is blessed in an unique way.
(PS -- excuse today's picture -- I am not gifted in "food photography" but I tried).

Monday, December 6, 2010

A $79.91 Surprise!

It’s a mystery, indeed!  A surprise delivery on our door step!
A few days ago, one of the children noticed a vase sitting on our front porch.  It was filled with change – pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Attached to the neck of the vase was a card in an envelope. The envelope read, “To the precious servant children.” The card inside read,  "Change 4 Change 4 Jesus." The note was not signed.  There was no indication of who was responsible for this surprise.  How special and how fun!
Resting on top of the mound of money was a beautiful red ornament with the even more beautiful word “Jesus” written across it, and James 1:17 inscribed below.  On the back, the verse read, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the Heavenly lights … ”
Who would have left this?  Like a rag tag band of Sherlock Holmes “wanna-bes”, we are trying to figure it out – time of day it was dropped off, handwriting, choice of wording -- but time and time again, we are stumped.   All we can conclude is that it is likely someone who read my post  “Change 4 Change 4 Jesus” last week, and someone who  desired to creatively bless someone through our  children.
This weekend, we all sat around and counted the money in the same fashion of our tradition.  Sorting the money, counting it up by type and adding it in full -- an astounding $79.91.
We talked and prayed about who we should give it to and made our decision. We recently heard of  a family at our church who has a two year old grandson with feeding difficulties.  He needs a very expensive formula in order to survive.  We will give this money, along with the story and the ornament to these sweet people and pray that they are encouraged.
Isn’t God amazing?  Imagine this!  He provides for one family by the anonymous donation of someone’s change, through our children.  God is so interesting!  He meets our every need in the most unexpected ways – how fun it must be for God to see His people respond to His call and bless people along the way!
To whoever dropped the surprise on our door step -- thank you. You showed my children the value and joy of an anonymous gift.  God is using you to encourage them in being good stewards of whatever He gives, through whatever channels, and you are giving them the opportunity to love someone else. Thank you, thank you. A thousand times -- thank you.
(As for our $59 that we collected as a family, we decided to give it to the Freedom Food Pantry, a local food pantry my son recently visited on a field trip.  Since being there, his passion for helping people in this way is growing. He feels strongly that we share our gift with them, trusting that the Lord will use it as He sees fit.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lots of Questions ...

My youngest daughter crawled up next to me in bed and snuggled in close by. It was way past her bedtime, but she was in need of some one-on-one time. I was, too.
As we laid there in the darkness of the night, her sweet head resting on my shoulder, she began to talk to me about all sorts of things and asking me random questions.  I tried to answer them.
“Were there a lot of shops when you were little?” 
“When was Johnny Appleseed around?” 
“Do you like having five children?  Is it hard?”
“How could Jesus be born if He was always alive?”
“Isn’t it hard to believe that Grandma was a child?”
And the last one, before she drifted off to sleep, satisfied that I did not have all the answers,
“Mom, who invented campers?”
Questions.  Lots of questions.
 I have lots of questions, too, and in the past week I’ve asked the Lord, sometimes quietly and sometimes out loud, banging on the doors of heaven – even this morning.
Questions. Lots of them. Questions about love and life and forgiveness.  Questions about life not being fair and justice.  Questions about tomorrow.  Questions about yesterday.  Questions about today. And questions like “ Why have you not healed my son? Why must he struggle so much with having special needs.”
And although I do believe that God answers our questions, I also believe that He holds back sometimes in order for us to seek Him more or He answers them in ways that we could never imagine.  And other times, I just don’t know why God does what He does.
I wish I understood the Lord better. Today, I feel as if He is the biggest mystery in the world.
Right before I hung up the phone with my friend Pat this morning, I asked her to pray for me, explaining to her how fears and questions rest heavy on my heart. She wisely reminded me, “Remember, Andrea, most importantly, you know Who is in control.” 
And she’s right.  So, like my daughter, I will rest my head upon His strong and safe shoulders in this day, knowing that even when I do not hear or understand all the answers, I can be at rest because He knows them all, He loves me and He is in control of everything.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Second Annual -- Change 4 Change 4 Jesus

It’s official – we are calling Change 4 Change 4 Jesus a Christmas tradition at our home and the second episode in what we hope to be a long running series took place last night.

Just like last year (click here to read the story of how I came up with the idea), I announced “On your mark! Get set! Go!” and the children took off to all corners of the house. They did not leave a potential hiding place of change undisturbed – my purse, their banks, the car, between couch cushions, in coat pockets, the junk drawer, dad’s dresser, and more. 
The pile of metal gradually grew on the family room floor and then the counting began.  Quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies were sorted, grouped and added up, for a grand total of $59.32.

Although excitement abounded, a faint whisper of disappointment rustled through all of our hearts. Last year  we found an amount much greater than we imagined – the fact that we had all the change from our garage sale, helped a lot, not to mention, that we had never done this before.  It’s not that nearly $60 was not a lot, it’s just that …
And then we talked about how the dollar amount is not important to the Lord, our offering it up to Him – to help His loved ones – is what is important. He would take care of multiplying it, as we placed it in to His hands.  He often uses little things for great purposes. He’s known for doing amazing things!
In addition, unlike last year when we decided to share the money with a sweet local family in need and with Gospel for Asia buying chickens,  this year we did not come up with a firm decision on what the Lord was asking of us.  We all remained relatively silent on who should be the recipient.  All that we could agree on was that it should be someone local – an individual or a family – not an organization.  But, whom should we choose?
This is where we sit currently, a bag full of change and a desire to share it with someone in need.  We agreed to pray about it and listen intently to the needs around us, as we go about our daily activities.  One thing is for certain, the Lord knows who the right person is and He will show us as we continue to seek Him. Perhaps there will be a good lesson in this, too.
Our family would like to extend to your family the Change 4 Change 4 Jesus challenge – a Christmas tradition for a change.  And we’d love to hear from you as to what you did and how you shared your gift – the gift that God gave through you.
Enjoy, my dear readers. It is a precious memory, with a beautiful purpose – sharing the love of Jesus.

PS -- Feel free to share in the comment section below any ideas you may have on who you would like to see helped during this Christmas season.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Trip to the Dentist -- A Lesson on Love

I heard her cry from the other room. Like a mother lion knows her cub, I knew the pitch and the tone of her voice.  I dropped everything and ran to the front desk at the dentist’s office.
“Excuse me, but I hear my daughter crying in the back. I’d like to go back and see her.”
I quickly walked to the exam room where my daughter was having her mouth “numbed up” in order to have two baby teeth pulled. Reassuring her as I slid between the counter and the chair where she reclined, I whispered, “Honey, I am right here.  Try and take deep breaths.  I’ll hold your hands. I know that it hurts. I’m so sorry. It will be over soon.”
The dentist tried to sooth her with the fact that the shots were the worst part. I tried to reassure her that although painful, this was in her best interest to have her two little teeth removed. They were inhibiting the growth of her new teeth. They needed to be extracted so that her adult teeth could move in to the right position.
At the moment, it didn’t matter to her. The pain of the small needle pricks was difficult for her to handle.  Tears ran down her face as she squeezed my hand.  Slowly, the Novocain began to work and the pain subsided. The grip of her hands relaxed and her crying slowed.
It was so hard for me to sit there and watch her sweet little face endure pain that I knew was necessary but none the less, painful.  My heart thickened with sorrow as she squeezed my hands and I heard her moans of discomfort.  My mouth even began to hurt. I, too, had struggled with having dental work performed and acutely remembered the fear and the pain (click here for story).
And as I shed tears and felt sick to my stomach at the sight of her pain – pain that was difficult but necessary -- I remembered Jesus. OH, how He hurts for us, too, as He watches us endure through physical and emotional trials and suffering. He weeps for us. He knows the pain of our pains.  He is a man acquainted with our sorrows, and He loves us deeply.
Before I knew it (and before she did too, but not without a few more tears from fear) my daughter was out of the chair and we were on our way home.  The skip in her step is back, and she is healing quickly. 
Later, my dear daughter said, “Thanks, Mom, for holding my hand. It made me feel safe.”  I knew how she felt, as I have held the Hand of One who has comforted me in all of my pains.
Dear reader, are you hurting today?  Cry out to the Lord and He will answer you.  “For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones” (Isaiah 29:13).  He is present in your pain, holding your hand, covering you with His love. He sees your tears. You can feel safe with Him, trusting that what we are asked to endure is for our good, for we can be confident that in all things (not some) God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Trying to be Thankful for the Thorns

In addition to thanking the Lord for the blessings this Thanksgiving I am convicted to try and be thankful for the thorns.

I was reading about Paul’s thorn last night, and I was struck by this --Paul said, “…to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh” 2 Corinthians 12:7.
God gave Paul a thorn. We don’t know what it is. Speculations range from an illness to a temptation to persecutions and an abundance of other ideas.  No one really knows, but Paul knew, and he asked the Lord to remove it 3 times.  However, God said, “No.”
But He just didn’t say “No,” (and He doesn’t just say "No" in our lives as well), He went on to say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  God’s answer to Paul’s request was His grace.
I don’t know for sure but I bet you have at least one if not a few thorns in your side. I do. Uninvited trials that inflict, infest and infect our lives with pain and discomfort.  Chronic issues that do not resolve – sorrows, physical pains, relationships with intractable people, disappointments, inner battles, temptations, insecurities and more.
These things that never seem to totally go away, prick and swell and get inflamed, but they are left there for a purpose, and often it is hard to understand. The answers to our hopes and prayers are not always what we hope and pray for.  God has other ideas – but they are good ideas.  Very good, for they are for our good and for His glory.
This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for all the blessings that God has given me, but I am also trying to be thankful for the thorns. I’ve stuffed the reality of my thorns for far too long, and over time, they just end up poking through and causing more problems.  I am going to choose to embrace the reality of my thorns, as a gift from God.
They keep me from exalting myself. They keep my humble.  They keep me on my knees. They keep me aware of my need of Him. They keep me sensitive to the needs of others, for as I embrace the reality of my own brokenness and the presence of God’s grace, the more I am willing to extend His grace.  They are one of the instruments that God uses to make us more like Jesus.
Is it hard for you to be thankful for the thorns? It is for me, but I am trying.  May I pray for us?
Dear Lord, Thank You for loving us enough to protect us from ourselves.  Our tendencies are to exalt ourselves and our abilities when we are to only exalt You. We want only happiness when You want so much more for us. Thank You for all that You give us, even the thorns.  Help us to realize the work that they do in our lives, through Your plan, and help us to extend grace to others, not always knowing what thorns they are dealing with.  Thank You for all You do and are.  Amen.

Blessed Thanksgiving, dear reader.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Celebrating a Legacy of Love

It was a lovely, tender moment in a most unusual way.
I sat cross legged on the floor facing my friend Mary, who sat on the couch across from me. We were planning her funeral.  Dressed in a cream colored sweater and a beige skirt, her gray hear framed her round, bright face.  Both hands  -- the hands of an artist -- with fingers fine and graceful, rested in her lap, occasionally lifted to add personality and detail to the stories that she shared. Antique furniture, framed photos and paintings she painted over the years surrounded us. Her worn bible rested next to her.
A brown cardboard box filled with memories – old photographs, baby books, newspaper articles --  sat next to me on the floor.   Over the next two hours, we wandered down memory lane. I pulled out pictures along the way, and Mary remembered and shared the stories.
There were stories of when she was a baby snuggling next to her mother, kissing her father goodbye on his way to work, and playing with a friend.  Stories of when she was a young woman, with dances and dreams and going to college. Stories of her husband, when they met, their wedding  day and memories of their 50 years together before he went home to be with the Lord two years ago.  She relived memories of Christmas dolls, times at the University of Iowa, a trip to Scotland as part of the Scottish Highlanders, the birth of her children and the tragic death of both of them – her son in an auto accident at the age of four months when she was also seriously injured, and the death of her daughter near the age of 30 from cancer. 
She shared memories of the life the Lord gave her full of love, hopes, joys and tragedies. And despite the great amount of pain that she has endured, she continues to point to the One whose grace has sustained her and whose love has changed her.
Widowed and without any living children, Mary’s desired is to have things organized and ready for the day when the Lord calls her home.  I collected the photos and the descriptions  to put on a CD, we looked at her handwritten obituary for me to type, we talked about the songs that she wanted sung and the scripture verses she loved and we laughed and cried. 
When we set out to sort through the box our goal was to plan her funeral, but it was so much more than that, and we soon realized that we were planning a celebration. 
A life well lived and one she is still living.  It was sweet to share in her life today.  I left thinking about life and love and the Lord – it’s late at night now, and I still am.  I was blessed today, celebrating Mary and celebrating the Lord.  
Thank you, Mary. Your legacy of love and faith in the Lord Jesus lives on in the people’s lives you touch.  It is a lovely legacy.  I love you, and because of you, I love the Lord more, too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Entangled by Comparison

Recently, a friend shared with me something about what the Lord is teaching her. It really made me think.   I asked her to write her story to me. I wanted to place her name on it, but she refused, saying "Please leave my name out. I would love the credit way too much and I would rather have the Lord get the credit."  She is sweet, humble and wise, and this is what she said …
Why as a Christian do I seem to be convicted to do or not do things that others don’t seem to be convicted about? It really bothers me, and sometimes I get really mad.  I find myself asking the Lord, “Lord, why am I convicted so fast, but she’s not? Why do I have to tithe and she doesn’t?” Over and over again, I wonder "why this" and "how come that" about what I should be doing and what others are not. 
I shared this with a friend and she suggested that I ask the Lord to show me.  I did.  And He did.
Hebrews 12: 1b – 2a says, “…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith ….”
There it was – plain and simple – sin.  It’s my sin of comparison that so easily entangles me.  Before I know it, I’m tripping on the tangled mess, preventing me from running the race that is set before me.  I look around at what everyone else is doing (or not doing) and I get all messed up.  It’s not about their race. It’s about my race. It’s about my keeping my eyes focused on Jesus, and not about me comparing myself to others.
If I can remember this in this race called life, I hope and pray that I will be able to finish well and eventually hear “well done” from the One who will be waiting at my finish line.
Thank you, dear friend, for reminding me of the dangers of comparison. It is so easy for us to look over our shoulders and feel too good about ourselves as we run ahead or look forward at who is in front of us and get discouraged.  The Lord has us where He knows it is best for us -- right now -- at this mile marker of the race. Keep on running well.  He has great plans for you!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Memory of My Aunt

I loved her from the very first time I met her. I was nine years old; she was only ten years older than me. It was Thanksgiving. She came with my uncle to my grandma’s house. I thought she was beautiful. She was one of the kindest people that I ever met. Her smile was deep and broad. Her heart was even more so. 
My memories of her are scattered, but the ones I have are all very special to me. We never lived near each other. When I was little we would spend some holidays together. I loved being in her home. It was warm and safe. As I got older we would talk on the phone from time to time, and she would come to visit me when I would have a new baby or just “because.”  Over the past years, we did not see each other as much. I was washed over with the details and busyness of being a mom of five young children.  She battled cancer.
Yesterday, my sweet Aunt completed her time on earth and went to be with the Lord.  Today, I am grieving. I miss her. I miss the way she loved me. I miss just knowing that she loved me, even when we did not see each other for years.  I miss the way she said my name. I miss the way that I was able to watch her mother her own children, and I miss the opportunity of learning from her about parenting and about life.
I tried to tell her how much she meant to me, but I feel as if I fell short.  How could she know how many time I watched her love her children?  How I saw her selflessly meet their needs and joyfully fulfill many of their wants?  How I saw her rejoice in whom they were – not expecting from them anything other than who they were? How I watched her love my uncle?  I miss the way that she laughed and the way that she laughed at herself. She was a bringer of joy wherever she went. She was more than a ton of fun. 
She added fullness to my life. I can’t explain exactly how, but she did.  I am thankful that she is at peace and that she is whole. Cancer no longer ravages through her body, however, I feel a deep emptiness of missing her.  She was wonderful.
As I think about her today, I think I know what she would say to me, “Love your family, Andrea. Laugh.  Times will be tough, but enjoy the people and life that God gave you.   It’s all a gift.”
I always loved her. I still do. I know that she loved me, too.

Monday, November 15, 2010

In the Grip of the Potter

Pressed in upon. Squeezed.  Overwhelmed. So much to do – so much to be.  I went over my mental checklist of things that I needed to do, from e-mails to lessons and housework to phone calls. My mind was spinning. Oh! So much, and then I felt the nudge of God.
“Look upward, dear child. It is Me. You are not squeezed in by your circumstances, by the needs of the day or your concerns for tomorrow, what you are feeling is Me. I am holding you tightly. I am molding you and shaping you.”
Was it His grip I was feeling?  Or the grip of the world squeezing the life out of me?  Could it be Him?  Dare I believe?
I have a choice. I could choose to feel imprisoned by my long list of things to do and my fears and my worries or I could choose to believe that He is the one who is holding me tight.  The Potter is holding my heart and my life like clay, in His tender, gentle, loving grip. He takes me, and knowing what is best, embraces me, molds me, and shapes me. He knows where to push to make me in to the vessel for His use for this day, and for all the days to come.
He knows what is necessary for me today. He knows what I need for tomorrow. He knows the plans He has for me. He is the perfect Potter.
“Will it hurt?” I wonder.  “Please don’t push too hard. Please don’t stretch me too thin. But please don’t let me go,” I call out to Him. I am guarded. I am scared.
I brace myself, and stiffen up, fearful that it is going to hurt.  I just want to be comforted.  I fear pain in the process, but I know that if I am to be for the display of His splendor, that I must also be willing to trust His hand, for there is  where growth and beauty will be found.
Oh, Lord. I don’t know what today holds, or tomorrow, but You do.  You hold me, You mold me. You shape me, You make me. I am clay in Your hands that You have chosen for Your purposes  I am choosing to trust my life in this day to Your firm, gentle, loving touch, and although it feels as if I am spinning round and round, I know that I am in Your grip, turning on the wheel that is powered by Your love, in order to make me who You desire for me to be. And I am loved.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Roundabouts of Life

We are experiencing an outbreak of roundabouts in our area.  They are popping up at intersections here and there, like chicken pox on a child – and they can be perplexing.
My friend Susie and I were talking about these crazy circles this week, and she shared a story with me.
The father of her friend was driving along with her friend in the car.  They approached a roundabout and he, not aware of the crazy (but beneficial) concept of the roundabout, made an immediate left turn, heading the wrong way.
“Dad!  Watch out! You are supposed to go right and then turn off on the street that you need, once you come around to it.”
“What do you mean?” the older gentleman said, a bit confused and fed up, “Why in the world would I have to go right if I want to go left?”
I can relate to that at roundabouts (they are tricky!)  and I can relate on the roundabouts of life.
“Why in the world would I have to go right if I want to go left?”  Would you agree? 
Sometimes, it’s hard to understand why we have to go one way in order to get to the opposite direction. The path most obvious to me usually makes sense. I can see where I want to go, why not just go there? 
The problem is – I’m not the only one on the road. If I choose to go my way – instead of the Right way – I am likely to put myself in danger, my passengers in danger, and the other people around me in danger.  When we turn one way – opposite of the way God is calling – well, an accident is inevitable.  Going God’s way is the only way.
He has His reasons. Sometimes, we catch a glimpse.  Most times, we scratch our heads and wonder what in the world He’s up to. I think He’s OK with that.  It pushes us to ask questions about Him – to Him – and He’s all about having a relationship with us.
So, next time I am thinking I should be there and God turns me in the other direction, I’m going to go with God. He knows the right way for me. He knows what I need to see or hear or learn along the circular route that He takes me.  He knows what is best for those on board with me and those on the road with me. His timing is perfect, and His path is perfect, too.  One thing I know for sure -- He’ll keep me going in the right direction.
In retrospect, there are lots of times, indeed, when I thought I knew what was best, but God DID know what was best, and I'm so thankful for that.  What about you?
Can you remember a time when you wanted to go left, but God took you right first? Can you see His hand in it?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Bad Case of the "I am nots ..." (or is that Good?)

I gotta tell you, I started out the day with a long list of the “I am nots …”
I am not going to get everything done. I am not going to get to the store. I am not equipped for this job.  I am not going to get through this pile of paperwork. I am not going to get a chance to write a post. I am not going to make it … I am not. I am not. I am not.
And then I remembered a book that I recently read (and I am highly recommending it to you) – “I am not but I know I AM” by Louie Giglio.  Listen to that again. “I am not but I know I AM.” 
This is a great read.   Great points to ponder. Great truths to bask in.  In brief, the book is about embracing (and I don’t want to ruin it for you – you really should read it) God – the great I AM – who He is and who we are (and are not) in light of Who He is.
To give you a glimpse, the back cover reads, “I am not but God knows my name. I am not but He has pursued me in His love. I am not but I know the Creator of the universe. I am not but I have been invited into His story. I am not but I know I AM.”
As I page through the book this morning, reflecting on the truth and sweet relief that I do not have to worry about all that I am not, because I know I AM – and He is all I need – I am drawn to a couple of things I underscored when I read this book before.
·         “Everything does not hinge on me.  If I stop doing my part, the whole world will not fall apart.  I am not in control.  God made the made the world in six days without any input from me, or my assistance. God doesn’t need me to accomplish His work. I am little. God is huge. I trust Him.”
·         “The story already has a star, and the star is not you or me.  We’ll spend our days trying to hijack the Story of God, turning it into the story of us. We can choose to cling to starring roles in the little-bitty stories of us, or we can exchange our fleeting moment in the spotlight for a supporting role in the eternally beautiful epic that is the Story of God.”
Whew! I can already feel my heart beat slowing and my breathing normalize. The muscles in my neck are relaxing and the knots in my stomach are untwisting.  I can relax. I may not understand everything, maybe not even a little, but one thing I know for sure – I know I AM.  I may not know all of Him, but I know that He loves me, that He has a plan for me and that I am part of His story.
What about you, sweet friend? Are you finding yourself caught up in the ways that you are not this day?  Take heart, you are not because you can’t be, but God IS – and He loves you.
At the end of the book Mr. Giglio says this (and I’m going to give you only a snippet, because it is so good and I want you to read the book):
“When you cry out all the things that you are not, you’ll know His answer is, “I AM.  For every cry, there is one answer:
I need help.  I AM.
I need hope. I AM.
Who could possibly be smart enough to figure this out?  I AM.
What’s the latest thing? I AM.
Nothing’s real anymore. I AM.
Nobody’s listening to me. I AM.
... and on and on the list goes.  “I am not but I know I AM.” I love that. I love the Lord.  And that’s enough for me today.
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